Mr. Leven has responded by e-mail to this diary, and in all fairness, since he made the effort to reasonably explain the circumstances, I think his perspective should be available to our readers. Please read it in the comments below.
We all love our Heady Topper some; but the wildly popular brew has outgrown the Alchemist’s Waterbury digs, forcing the brewer to stop offering on-site retail sales.
The new plan is to move the retail face of the Alchemist to Stowe, and locate it on property belonging to Stoweflake Resort and Spa, where craft beer devotees, from near and far, might gather to pick up a case or two of Heady Topper then wander over to a “visitors’ center.” Presumably, that’s where they will buy branded novelties, tacky t-shirts and other specialty items you can’t possibly find anywhere else in Stowe.
‘Problem is, the same issue that ended retail sales at the Waterbury cannery, threatens to scotch the brewers’ permit application in Stowe. That issue is traffic, which, I am told, is a sight to behold whenever the Alchemist opens its doors to retail buyers.
Tuesday, the Stowe Develpment Review Board met at a warned meeting to consider the proposal, and a number of citizens on both sides of the argument made time in their lives to attend the meeting and express their views.
Apparently, this demonstration of public interest was insufficient to persuade board chair Brian Leven to go ahead and conduct the hearing with just five of the seven DRB members present.
According to board chair Brian Leven, the board did not have suitable numbers to discuss the topic adequately. Only five of the seven board members attended Tuesday’s hearing, and Leven is likely to recuse himself from the discussion, since he is friends with the applicants, Alchemist owners John and Jen Kimmich.
When asked if the public could at least be permitted to discuss the plan, since they had gathered for that purpose, Leven decreed that they should submit their opinions in writing and the whole matter would be taken up at a later hearing when, presumably, a fuller number of board members could be present.
Now, four board members represent a quorum, and as such, are legally qualified to vote on any business before the DRB. A quorum is a simple majority of the total number of board members. It is the minimum number of members who must be present in order to conduct a vote.
As anyone who has attended DRB meetings anywhere in the state can attest, it is not all that unusual, particularly in summer, to have one or more DRB members absent at any given meeting. That is precisely the reason for the quorum rule.
But, obviously, when an applicant may experience some opposition to his/her project, the odds of a favorable outcome improve considerably if the project is reviewed by all seven members. Then if one, two or even three members aren’t sufficiently warm to the plan, it can still be passed by the other four.
Needless to say, public attendees at the warned meeting were quite unhappy that their open participation had been quashed; and one might wonder if the manner in which this meeting was conducted satisfied that portion of the open meeting law which reads:
At an open meeting, the public shall be given reasonable opportunity to be present, to be heard and to participate regarding matters considered by the public body during a meeting, subject to rules established by the chairperson. This does not apply to quasijudicial proceedings.
Then there is the spectre of conflict of interest to consider. Mr. Leven is “likely to recuse himself from the discussion,” but that does not change the fact that his decision as chair to postpone the hearing until a larger number of representatives is present favors his friends the Kimmichs.
If members of the public, who were told to submit their comments in writing, choose instead to make an issue of the decision, it will, at the very least represent some embarassment for Mr. Leven, the City, and even the applicants.
Bad form, Mr. Leven.